By the time I was leaving for work that night, I still hadn’t heard from Jason or Gran. My anxiety was starting to get the better of me. I knew the laws well enough to know that I couldn’t file a missing person’s report just yet. Because both of them were adults, they were well within their rights to just take off at any time and not give a reason for it or tell anyone where they were going or when the might be back. All I had to go on was a gut feeling and behavior history.
Now in Gran’s case, the sheriff might be worried. Gran was as dependable as a sunrise. She hardly ever missed an appointment and if she did, she was the kind to call and cancel. She wasn’t the type to just not show up and then apologize later. Frankly, Jason wasn’t really the type either but that wouldn’t stop the sheriff from thinking he was.
Granted, Jason had gotten into his fair share of trouble with the sheriff over the years. There had been a few fist fights over Jason getting tangled up with the wrong woman that resulted in the law being called out to settle the dispute. More than once he’d been pulled over for speeding or blowing stop signs. Jason had been somewhat of a hell-raiser back in his teenage years. He had also orchestrated the senior prank – a slip ‘n slide down the back hallway – back when he was in high school. It was nothing a little deep cleaning and a few workman’s comp claims didn’t take care of…
Oh, and that one girl who needed dental surgery.
There was also a rumor going around that Jason had been the mastermind behind the giant nest that had been constructed in the parking lot of the school to honor the dean of students, Mr. Hawkins. It was hard to believe that Jason could be the mastermind of anything besides a panty raid or a beer run, but stranger things had happened.
I was distracted at work, however. My mind kept wandering to the endless possibilities of where Gran and Jason might have gone and what could have happened to them. My gut told me that if Jason left it was by choice. There was nothing in the house to suggest a struggle had taken place there. I was careful about what I touched and I didn’t notice any of the doors being broken or damaged in anyway that would suggest someone had forced their way in. Hell, the fact that the doors were locked when I got there seemed like a pretty solid indication that Jason hadn’t been taken out of his house in the middle of the night.
I felt confident in ruling out another run-in with the sheriff or Andy, seeing as Jason hadn’t called to have me bail him out of jail. Not to mention, there was no way Maxine wasn’t going to run her big mouth all day long if Jason was in jail. Gran may have been her friend but that wouldn’t stop her from yappin’.
Something about the whole thing just stank to me.
Too bad I had no idea where to go next.
“You alright, Sookie?” Sam asked me when I just stared off into space for a good ten minutes.
“Just got a few things on my mind,” I answered.
“Wanna talk about it?”
I sighed and straightened up some instead of slouching. Gran hated bad posture.
“I don’t know where Gran and Jason are,” I told him. “Gran said she was fixin’ to visit a friend at the hospital in Clarice but when I got home last night she wasn’t there. Then I woke up this morning and she wasn’t there either. I don’t know if she came home after I went to bed, which isn’t likely, or if she never came home, which is even less likely.”
“You call the sheriff yet?”
“No, not yet,” I admitted. I appreciated that Sam looked concerned. He knew Gran about as well as anyone else in town did and I knew Gran liked him an awful lot.
“So she’s been gone about twenty-four hours then?” he asked.
“Something like that. I don’t even know if she made it to the hospital yesterday. I’m guessing she did but until I can talk to Mrs. Wynn, I have no idea.” I didn’t want to interrupt her recuperation or trouble an already troubled woman with my problems.
Sam nodded his understanding.
“You don’t think… I mean the vampires you’ve been hanging around with couldn’t have something to do with this, could they?” Sam had a thing about vampires. I knew they could be sneaky little shits but I didn’t think either of them would mess with my family.
“I don’t think so, Sam,” I replied. “I know things didn’t really end very well with Bill but he’s just not that kind of guy. He and Jason may not have seen eye to eye but he liked Gran a lot. Bill has his faults but I can’t see him kidnapping my family as a way to get even with me for breaking up with him.”
“What about to get you back?”
I laughed my response to that.
“Oh come on, Sam. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” I said. I had no idea how kidnapping my family was supposed to make me want him back.
“Vampires are sneaky, Sook. I mean think about it for a minute. He snatches them up so in your moment of need he gets to be the hero who helps you find them. Meanwhile the son of a bitch was responsible for them going missing and he gets some weird thrill out of seeing you going crazy,” Sam explained.
That seemed pretty far-fetched to me.
Yes, vampires could be sneaky but to kidnap my family to get back in my good graces? That was just plain crazy. For starters, I wasn’t worth that kind of trouble. But then I thought about the condition of Jason’s house. No signs of forced entry. No signs of a struggle. Jason definitely would have put up a fight if Bill tried to manhandle him out of the house.
Then again, that wasn’t Bill’s style.
He definitely would have glamoured Jason. What’s more, Gran would stop to talk to Bill if she saw him out walking on her way home from the hospital. Being dishonest didn’t make someone a threat. I hadn’t told her that Bill was responsible for Bartlett’s death. Gran had mixed feelings about the old pervert. In her mind he was pretty much a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. On one hand, he was her big brother. He had played with her as a child and had helped teach her how to shoot.
As far as brothers went, he was normal. If he ever got funny with Gran, she hid it away from me. That wasn’t easy to do. I wondered sometimes if he had done the same things to Aunt Linda or what had made Bartlett interested in little girls. Purely from a psychological standpoint, I was curious. From his thoughts I knew he liked the softness and the innocence.
He was a sick, twisted shit.
“Believe me, I know all about sneaky vampires,” I sighed.
“If I were you, I’d call Bud and get him to take a ride over Bill’s house to check it out.”
I didn’t want to admit that he might have a point. Going to Bill’s alone probably wasn’t the best idea, but if Gran had been taken by a vampire, Bud wasn’t the sheriff I needed to call.
“Goshdangit,” I muttered under my breath. The look on Sam’s face told me he heard it but I didn’t offer an explanation for my cursing.
What I needed was for time to go by quicker so I could get out of work. The middle of the week was so slow after ten. I wasn’t sure why Sam even stayed open after that. Jane Bodehouse was the only customer that stayed until closing during the week and she was usually half asleep by eleven.
To keep myself busy I got to work on my sides. I hoped that if I kept my hands moving it might make time pass a little faster. I married ketchup bottles, sugar jars and refilled the salt and pepper shakers. In that time I refilled two cups of coffee in the hope of sobering Jane up a little bit. Still there were no calls from Jason or Gran.
By closing time all my side work was done. Jane’s son came to get her and I helped load her into the passenger’s seat of his truck. If it wasn’t so sad I might have laughed at the Tammy Wynette lyrics running through her mind. Her life hadn’t been that easy either but a lot of that came back to Jane’s drinking problem.
“You out of here?” Sam asked after Jane and her son were on their way.
“Unless you have something else you want me to do,” I answered.
“No, nothing like that. I could shift and take a run around Bill’s house if you want,” Sam offered. That was a good idea, actually.
“Sure, that would be great,” I nodded. I was trapped between hoping he found something and knowing he wouldn’t.
I couldn’t say why it was, exactly, but my gut feeling was that Bill had nothing to do with either of them disappearing. Bill had lied to me about a lot of things but I couldn’t see him orchestrating an abduction. That could have been his blood blinding me to the possibility, though, so I was going to investigate the option. If nothing else, it would rule him out.
“I’ll follow you home after I lock up,” he told me.
“Thanks, Sam.” I turned for my car to drive home. I didn’t want to think about how he knew Gran and Jason’s scents so well.
On the short drive home I didn’t see anything extraordinary or out of place. It was a hot, muggy night suggesting it was going to storm at some point before morning. That made me nervous. If I was going to rely on scents to find my family I didn’t want them washed away.
So instead of taking the turn for Hummingbird Lane, I turned for the highway that would take me back to Shreveport. I was going back to Fangtasia.
More cars were in the lot than the night before. There was a short line of customers waiting to get in and Pam was at her post at the door, checking identification. She stopped mid-sentence to look right at me.
“Sookie,” she purred in that faux southern drawl of hers.
“Pam,” I nodded. “Is Eric here?”
“There’s a line, princess,” the guy who had been waiting for Pam to let him in snapped at me.
“Cool it, Jethro. She’s a personal friend of the family,” Pam snapped back. The guy narrowed his eyes in annoyance, but he kept his mouth shut. “Eric’s inside on the stage, thrilling the vermin.”
What a nice way to refer to customers.
Then again the guy standing next to me kind of looked like a rat. Granted it was a rat in too much leather and eyeliner, but still…
“Go on in. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to see you,” Pam smirked.
Oh I had no doubt about that.
I also had no doubt he already knew I was there.
It crossed my mind that Eric could be the sneaky vampire who orchestrated Gran’s disappearance but I couldn’t wrap my mind around that either. Honestly I couldn’t understand the motive he would have for it. Eric had been all about showing his gratitude. Kidnapping my family would have been a huge step backward if he was trying to get in my good graces.
The pulse of the loud music playing inside the bar came up from the ground, vibrating under my feet as I went in without Pam checking my ID or charging me ten dollars to get in. My mental shields normally would have slammed shut, but I was looking for humans so that seemed counterproductive. Sorting through all the thoughts wasn’t so easy.
Particularly because I felt a pull to the right.
I looked in that direction and of course I saw Eric sitting on his usual chair, staring fairly intensely at me. He was dressed for the part of a sultry, seductive vampire. Black pants, black racerback tank top and black boots. A leather jacket hung from one of the horns on the chair. He didn’t motion or gesture for me to come closer, but I did anyway.
“Miss Stackhouse, two days in a row,” Eric said as I came to a stop in front of him.
“Can we talk somewhere a little quieter?” I didn’t want to potentially grovel in front of the entire bar. Eric was more likely to help me if I didn’t make him look like a pushover in front of the patrons who were expecting a hard ass.
He rose gracefully and the flood of lustful thoughts nearly knocked me down. Wouldn’t you know Eric caught me when I swayed on my feet? His strong hands rested on my arms and I couldn’t help but catch a good whiff of him. The scent he carried was hard to describe. It wasn’t that he smelled old, but it was like the smell was from a different time. I knew I smelled his soap, but there was that unique person smell. Body odor, I supposed, but not in the foul kind of way.
He smelled like the beach and woods combined. It wasn’t like Bill at all. Bill reminded me of the smell of old books or paper.
The crowd parted to give Eric a wide berth. I followed behind him through the door that separated the public area from the offices and stockroom. The door closed on its own behind me. Eric’s office was on right side of the hall. I knew the last door on the left led down to the basement where Lafayette had been held captive, but when I directed my feelers that way, I didn’t hear anything.
Eric’s office was the same as the last time I caught a glimpse of it. The walls were still mostly littered with framed photographs and old paintings. Shelves of Fangtasia merchandise lined the wall on the left. Straight ahead was the desk that seemed too small for someone Eric’s size. A black leather executive’s chair was parked behind the desk. Several small desk lamps lit the room dimly, even though I knew there were fluorescent overhead lights as well.
“What can I do for you tonight, Miss Stackhouse? Did the dishwasher not get picked up?” Eric closed the door behind us.
“It did,” I confirmed. “I’m not here about that.”
My phone buzzed in my pocket. Shoot, I forgot all about Sam! I pulled my phone out and sure enough…
“Do you need to take that?”
“I’ll make it quick,” I promised before I accepted the call. “Sam, I’m sorry, I made a pit stop in Shreveport. I’ll be home in a bit. Did you find anything?”
“What are you doing in Shreveport?” he asked nervously.
“If your theory was right, Bud can’t help me,” I replied.
“Don’t tell me you went to see Eric,” he practically groaned.
“He’s a sheriff,” I reasoned, earning me one of those arched eyebrows. Sam sighed on the other end of the line.
“I didn’t catch anything around his property,” Sam told me. “No lights were on at your place either and I didn’t see Adele’s car.”
It confirmed what I suspected he would find.
“Thank you, Sam.”
“Sook, get out of there. You don’t want Eric’s help,” Sam advised.
“I’ll be fine, Sam. I appreciate your help,” I said before I hung up. It was probably rude of me but I didn’t want to get in the middle of some supernatural pissing contest.
“You’re looking for my help?”
“If a vampire in this area was causing trouble, you’re the one I should see, right?” I closed the flip phone and tucked it back in my pocket.
“That’s correct. I can guess which vampire it is,” he replied.
“Actually, I don’t know if it’s a vampire. Bill and I went our separate ways a few weeks ago,” I confessed.
“That’s a shame.” Eric convinced exactly no one with that tone of his. “So what brings you here?”
“My grandmother and brother have gone missing. Gran has been gone for just over twenty-four hours and Jason has been gone since Saturday night. It’s not like either of them to just disappear without saying anything, especially with Gran,” I explained.
I went on to explain all the things I found at Jason’s house and told him everything I knew. I no longer felt like I was overreacting to Gran not coming home. Something just wasn’t right.
“And you suspect a vampire is at fault?” Eric questioned.
“Sam does,” I answered. “He has a good point. As far as I know nothing suggests they were taken against their will and both of them would have fought back… Unless they were glamoured.”
“That’s a possibility,” Eric conceded.
“Sam took a look around Bill’s property for me to see if he could find anything out of place, but he didn’t find anything,” I explained. I didn’t know if Eric knew that Sam was different, but I suspected he did. Bill had told me shapeshifters didn’t smell the same as humans. It made sense. Cats and dogs didn’t smell the same.
“Was he in canine or human form?” So that answered whether or not he knew.
“I’m guessing canine,” I replied.
“So what would you like me to do?” Eric asked.
“I’m not used to running investigations, Eric. I could call the Renard Parish sheriff, but if there’s something supernatural involved he’s not trained for that. I don’t think Bud even knows what email is,” I told him, earning me a little chuckle. “I don’t know what I want you to do. I just thought you should know in case a vampire is involved. I’m sure there are some in Dallas who weren’t too happy with me.”
The levity on Eric’s face disappeared.
“What happened in Dallas was hardly your doing,” Eric said. “In fact, if it wasn’t for you it could have been much worse.”
I supposed that was true. It could have been a total massacre at the church. The bombing in the aftermath wasn’t exactly as bad as it could have been either. I had Eric to thank for that, at least personally. Those pieces of shrapnel that wounded him when the bomb went off could have been fatal to me.
Steve Newlin had no idea who I was, only that I had come to the church undercover to find a presumably kidnapped vampire. My real identity had stayed secret, even when that traitor Hugo tried to sell me down the river.
“So what do I do?” I asked Eric. I was sure he knew I was anxious, concerned and scared.
“That’s it? Just go home?”
“I’ll do some asking around,” Eric said.
“So I just have to wait, is that what you’re telling me?”
“Unless you’ve developed further psychic powers…”
“No, I haven’t but I can’t just sit still, Eric. I need to get up and do something. Sitting on my sofa watching stories while my family is missing doesn’t work for me,” I told him. I had to be up and doing something proactive.
“There’s nothing you can do until I talk to the people I need to talk to,” he said.
I didn’t agree with that.
“It’s going to rain. I’m going to go home and look in the woods behind the house just in case,” I said before turning to go back to the door. In a blur of motion, Eric was back in front of me, standing in front of the door.
“I’ll go with you,” he said. “You’re going to need someone who can track humans and I’m a superior hunter.”
The look he gave me momentarily distracted me from my worries. I saw definite lust and desire in his eyes, but I wasn’t looking for someone to hunt me down.
“I have no doubt you are, but whatever you’re thinkin’ right now, you can just quit it.”
He smirked and opened the door.
“After you, Miss Stackhouse,” he gestured.
I walked past him into the bar. While I went to the door Eric went back to the stage for his jacket. I paused long enough to see him talking to Pam, but I didn’t bother waiting for them to finish. Instead I moved on to my car. Somehow Eric ended up pulling out ahead of me in his fancy sports car. I followed him out of the lot at a much slower speed and headed for home, hoping for once that Eric Northman would be the answer to my prayers.